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  • Time to Admit Hard Truths About Boston 2024 -- OpEd


    07/26/15

    Boston (Getty Images)
    (ATR) An unscheduled teleconference of the US Olympic Committee Board of Directors on July 27 could mean the end of the tortured bid from Boston for the 2024 Olympics.

    The suddenly called meeting comes just three weeks after the board held its regular quarterly meeting where it affirmed Boston as the US nominee for 2024. Now it looks like there are serious doubts about that decision when the Massachusetts capital was selected over Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington D.C.

    Back in January, Boston was immediately hailed as the best choice to bring the Games back to the U.S. But the second guessing took over quickly as Boston careened from one public relations pratfall to another.

    Worse still was the discovery that people in Boston had little love for the Olympics. Opinion polls taken a month after the decision showed that only 36% of those surveyed were in favor of the Olympics, a number that has risen to only 40% in the latest poll. The lack of public ardor should have been no surprise to the USOC. Boston was the only one of the four cities with an organized and vocal opposition.

    With the collapse of the race for the 2022 Winter Olympics fully in view, the USOC board ignored the key lesson of that debacle: public support must be overwhelming for a bid to succeed. Bids from Switzerland and Munich ended early when referendums killed the projects. A bid from Poland crashed at the ballot box. Finally Oslo had to quit the race when the government refused to back the bid, even though the Norwegian capital had been selected for the shortlist by the IOC.

    Call it duplicity or naïveté, but now we learn from Boston 2024 that the extent of public disfavor over an Olympic bid was downplayed when Boston made its final presentation to the USOC late last year. The Boston leaders said its research indicated the opposition would not be a factor.

    Meanwhile the USOC has been seemingly powerless to exercise any direction or influence on a project over which it should be in charge.

    While bid leaders claim they’re being transparent, little has come forward from Boston freely and willingly. It was only under the threat of a subpoena that Boston 2024 last week released the unredacted version of the presentation it made to the USOC in December. The unexpurgated presentation reveals, for example, the untruths about Boston public opinion that bid leaders delivered to the USOC.

    Efforts by Boston 2024 to find new venues for events outside the metropolitan area have been greeted with some suspicion, given that the original pitch for the bid was for a walkable Olympic plan. Then in late June, literally on the eve of the last USOC board meeting, Boston 2024 unveiled what it calls the 2.0 version of its Olympics plan. In the three weeks since there’s been no spark created by the new plan. It’s as if no one cares.

    Charlie Baker (Getty Images)
    In another glaring example of its failure to exercise due diligence, the USOC is now pressing Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker on whether he supports the Boston 2024 bid. He doesn’t know yet because he’s waiting for a consultant to deliver its findings on whether a Boston Olympics is feasible for his state. Now besides scrambling to find public support to back a bid, the USOC is left to wonder whether state government is behind it.

    Then came last week’s televised debate that exposed just how out of touch the bid can be. Joining Boston 2024 chair Steve Pagliuca on the pro side of the debate was Dan Doctoroff, a USOC board member and a New York City businessman. While Doctoroff made some key points and may have been the sharpest tack in the room, he still came across as a New Yorker telling Boston what to do, something the debate opponents could not ignore.

    It is a huge indictment against Boston 2024 that it cannot find a credible and skillful debater from the city, depending instead on an outsider to tell Boston why the Olympics will be good for them.

    As if the fumbling and clumsiness from Boston during the past six months wasn’t enough, this bid is saddled with the yoke of a statewide referendum that won’t happen for another 18 months. This after Boston promised the USOC no referendum would be needed to move the bid forward.

    But just weeks after winning the nomination from the USOC, Boston capitulated on that pledge in the interest of political expediency.

    As it stands now, should Boston make the IOC short list next June, leaders of the bid will be forced to run two separate campaigns, one aimed at currying votes from the IOC and the other seeking public support to win the referendum. In addition to financing the international campaign for the Games, Boston 2024 may need to raise millions to support the pro-Games position in the November 2016 referendum.

    Given the bad luck the IOC has faced in the past couple of years with bids falling victim failed referendums, it might not be a surprise for the IOC to keep Boston off the short list, despite the IOC’s strong appetite to bring the Olympics back to the U.S.

    Boston appears to face a significant disadvantage against competitors from Europe that include Paris, Rome, Hamburg and Budapest. While more needs to be learned about each of these bids, the support of government leaders and the public seems to be far less in doubt than it does in Boston. Hamburg, the only other one in the group with a referendum, will conduct its vote in September.

    Finally, it takes some charisma, some pizzazz to run a successful campaign for the Games. London had it for 2012, New York did not. Rio de Janeiro oozed charm in its campaign for 2016, Chicago did not. In the 2024 race, at least two of these bids, Paris and Rome, will be headed by individuals with charm and connections to international sports. Bernard Lapasset of Paris is the gregarious president of World Rugby and known to Olympic figures around the world. Automotive executive Luca Cordero di Montezemolo is well known to IOC members as well and is a dashing figure who will bring his prestige to the Rome bid.

    With all due respect to Steve Pagliuca and colleagues, the team from Boston may be comprised of top-notch professionals are at the top of their careers, but they are for the most part international amateurs with little experience in the world of the Olympics.
    Dan Doctoroff during the campaign of New York for the 2012 Olympics. (ATR)

    When the USOC board meets Monday, four new members who joined since Boston was nominated will take part in the discussion. Doctoroff is one of them. One of the reasons he was selected for the USOC board as well as for IOC a seat on the Boston 2024 board was his background leading the bid from New York City for the 2012 Olympics.

    As he knows firsthand, the New York City bid was plagued with turf battles with the USOC and struggles to win support from the public as well as politicians. A month before the IOC was to vote on 2012, the New York bid was dealt a fatal blow when state politicians refused to back plans for Olympic Stadium.

    Of the 16 members of the USOC board, Doctoroff knows perhaps better than the rest the stench of a rotting bid. Maybe he’ll share that sensory experience with his fellow board members. But things have gotten so bad for Boston that everyone should be smelling the rot, even in a teleconference.

    Written by Ed Hula.

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